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Crop damage expected in Baja as growers await storm

by Tim Linden | September 02, 2009
On Wednesday evening, Sept. 2, Hurricane Jimena was rolling across the central plains of the Baja California peninsula likely inflicting some damage on the tomato, cucumber and other crops that are currently in the ground awaiting harvest in the fall.

"It would be a miracle if we come out of this without damage," John King, vice president of sales for Andrew & Williamson Sales Co. Inc. in San Diego, said the afternoon of Sept. 2. "We will know a lot more in 24 hours. The storm should start to come through in the early morning hours tomorrow."

Mr. King said that ironically, a lack of water is typically the limiting factor to crop production in Baja. "So we always welcome rain, but I'm afraid we are going to get way too much from this storm."

The resort areas, such as Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the peninsula, did dodge a bullet on Sept. 2 when the eye of the hurricane veered west and was about 30 miles out to sea when the storm passed through that region. Southern Baja saw 10 inches or more of rain in a short time, and there was flooding. There were no reported deaths on the peninsula and the commercial buildings survived the onslaught. There are many rural shantytowns in the area that were expected to incur significant damage, but the extent of that damage was not known by press time.

Mr. King said that the storm came back over the land and was traveling up the center of Baja nearing his firm's farmlands in the center of the peninsula. He said that about 90 percent of the fresh-market crops in Baja are grown in shadehouses that are not designed to withstand high winds.

While Hurricane Jimena had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm, that meant that it still had winds approaching 100 mph. He said that a shadehouse would have difficulty surviving those forces. "We've been farming down there for 23 years, so this isn't the first time we have had to deal with storms. You assess the damage after they go through, you make your repairs and you get back up and running as fast as you can," he said.

Mr. King said that the fall deal from Baja kicks off usually around Oct. 1. "We were expecting cukes the last week of September and the tomatoes to start on October 1," he said.

Chuck Thomas, owner and president of Thomas Produce Sales Inc. in Nogales, AZ, said Sept. 2 that the Baja growers with whom he had talked that morning were surprisingly upbeat. "I'm looking at The Weather Channel, and it looks like the storm is headed right for them, but they are talking as if there is going to be no problem. They're taking orders for the weekend," he said.

But Mr. Thomas said that it appeared unlikely that the entire area would emerge unscathed. "There's got to be some damage," he said. "Right now, there's no volume coming from down there, but in the next three or four weeks, most of them should get going. Next week I'll know a lot better how much damage there was."

Mr. Thomas said that the storm appears to have brought some rain to mainland Mexico and that it would have an advantageous effect if the storms were not accompanied by hurricane-force winds.

On Sept. 2, it was not known how far north or east the hurricane would go before waining. Typically, land saps hurricanes of their strength. Mr. Thomas said that there was a slight chance that if the storm took an eastern trajectory, it could cross over the Sea of California and head across mainland Mexico, but The Weather Channel forecasters were not expecting that. The storm was expected to bring rain into Southern California and Arizona by the Labor Day weekend, where it is very much needed.